Death benefits tend to be a hard sell, especially to those designated to do the dying. Stephen Levine once framed this conundrum for me nicely by asking: “Would you sell your death for a million dollars?” What that would mean is that you don’t get to die. You’re forced to remain in your body as time and gravity take their crushing toll on you. Imagine living for 500 or 1000 years confined immobile to a hospital gurney with your skin barely hanging onto your bones, your bones no longer able to support your weight, your neck no longer able to support your head. The temptation to sell our death – the instinctual desire to live forever – involves the last of Bonnie Badenoch’s Nine Neural Pathways of Integration that we’ve been exploring: Temporal Integration.
Timely Temporal Integration
People possessing good temporal integration have more than a dissociated denial or an isolated intellectual understanding of the inevitable reality that “Yes, we are all going to die.” They have given it considerable thought and have often found ways to creatively express great feeling with respect to their own mortality. Many such people end up working in hospitals and hospices and grief counseling agencies, writing poetry or making compelling art. When my friend Errol, who was also my daughter’s nursery school teacher, encountered a wild pig running across Highway 101 up near Ukiah several years ago, he instinctively swerved to avoid it. The car rolled, tossed him out, and then rolled over him. When hospital personnel went through his personal effects, they found a card with a Lakota saying on it: “Today is a good day to die.” Errol had just celebrated his 30th birthday. He died with good temporal integration.
Temporally Integrating Early
Errol’s mother Marnie, was also a nursery school teacher. Marnie was adamantly in favor of not shielding children from death, but of doing our best to explain it in terms kids can understand, while at the same time not hijacking their limbic systems. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, the Grand Dame of Death, was also in similar favor. Explaining the Don’t-Know Mystery of death in simple terms, she thought was far better than trying to keep death hidden from children, or explaining death away with some incomprehensible notion that kids will often fearfully distort. Having personally helped dozens of kids who’ve lost loved ones work through their grief, I can unequivocally say that not only can children handle the experience when placed in an environment that supports healthy grieving, but for optimal ongoing growth and development, they absolutely need to address their losses. We all do. Grieving our losses is essential for temporal integration.
Temporally Integrating Late
Many people have close brushes with death. Some have been pronounced clinically dead and come back to tell about Near Death (NDE) and Out of Body Experiences (OOBE). The International Association of Near Death Studies publishes a peer-reviewed journal that often includes many accounts of these experiences. One such report, a peer-reviewed prospective study of 344 patients who had suffered cardiac arrest was also published in the prestigious British medical journal Lancet by Dutch cardiac surgeon, Pim von Lommel. In that account roughly 18% of his patients reported an NDE. Perhaps the most well-known account is by Pam Reynolds, a country singer who had all the blood temporarily diverted from her brain and had her body temperature lowered to 60 degrees while neurosurgeons worked to remove an aneurysm buried at the base of her brain. Had it burst it would have killed her. Pam’s tale is detailed in the BBC documentary, The Day I Died.
Nobel Prize-winning poet, Rabindranath (I love that name. I often wonder about the parents who came up with it.) Tagore seemed to possess the full spectrum of integration when he anguishly expressed: “I weep inside this prison that bears my name.” This is much the same sentiment that Pam and many others who have had OOBE’s and NDE’s report upon returning – that the experience of dying was such that they are disappointed to be required to come back. Many do so most unwillingly. The literature is legion with folks who have returned from such experiences with their priorities, and presumably their brains, significantly changed. A great number who have such experiences simply drop ego-driven striving and begin devoting themselves to a life of service. Many report totally losing all fear of death.
How might your life change were you no longer the least bit fearful of death?